|A large crowd of tourists were waiting outside the gates at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre waiting for it to open. Many had come thousands of miles expressly to see these animals in one of only four sanctuaries in the world. I had failed to see them in Semenggoh and had travelled seven hours across Sabah state from Kota Kinabalu hoping my luck would change. But a park ranger appeared with bad news. The centre would be closed due to an escaped sun bear from the neighbouring sanctuary. No news on when it would be open again.
I spent the day at the nearby Rainforest Discovery Centre which was fun, but I saw no wildlife. I stayed in a very nice jungle lodge called Paganakandii, marred only by tour groups of British teenagers and disappointing food tailored to the palates of unadventurous tourists who go queasy at the mere mention of chillies.
The next day I had only a few hours before checking out and was anxious for news from the sanctuary. Finally, my luck turned. The bear hadn't been caught, but the centre was open anyway. Clearly, public safety was important for a day but couldn't be allowed to interfere too much with takings.
Even before feeding began, a small orang utan swung along the ropes followed by several more. It was amazing to see them, but the number of clicking cameras did distract a little from the experience and it felt pretty much like a zoo. The sanctuary is, however, doing great work in rescuing and rehabilitating the animals. But I was to be even more fortunate in seeing orang utans in the wild the following day.
From Sepilok I had booked a package to stay at the Nature Lodge by the river Kinabatangan. Depressingly, for a hundred kilometres there is nothing to be seen but oil palm plantations. The area where I stayed was a small pocket of remaining forest. The setting for the lodge was beautiful, but sadly the pace was run like a Butlins holiday camp, with a gong being struck to announce meals and activities. This being high season, the camp was overrun with tourists and mealtimes degenerated into bun fights as rude Europeans and their badly brought up children jostled to grab mediocre food. Chips and baked beans were the highlight for many!
But the wildlife made up for all that and I saw some orang utans high up in the trees, as well as crocodiles, otters, kingfishers, long-tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys which are unique to Borneo. There were also more leeches on the trails, but I managed to avoid them. The early morning river cruises were excellent, although the river was often very crowded with other tourist boats. On the last day we came across a herd of Bornean Pygmy elephants which was the perfect end to the trip.
After a night back in Kota Kinabalu and splurging on a lobster and giant prawns at the fabulous night market, I'm now in Kuala Lumpur with just a day to go before returning to the UK. It's been a fabulous six months and when I look back at the photos of India it's hard to believe that was all part of the same journey.